2015.25: Deceivers and Truth-Tellers


The question comes up time and again: should lawyers portray the legal system as some wish it were, or as it really is?

Those who think we should portray the legal system as they wish it were—an accurate instrument for finding the truth, with rules that work and players who are above reproach as long as they follow those rules—are deceivers. Their deception has a purpose, perhaps—to “fake it until we make it,” or to keep the rubes from rioting—but they are deceivers nonetheless.

Those who portray the legal system as it really is are truth-tellers. When truth-tellers speak, deceivers accuse us of bringing the profession into disrepute and try to shut us down.

From the (Canadian) Law Times last month:

[Dalhousie University lawprof Elaine] Craig also takes issue with lawyer web sites that imply aggressive advocacy in sexual assault cases, a sensitive topic in light of the current debates around the reticence of victims to report sexual assaults. In her view, implying aggressive advocacy may contravene law society rules on marketing. She noted, for example, the web site of law firm Adler Bytensky Prutschi Shikhman, which pointed out that “in many sexual assault allegations, the only evidence comes from a single complainant. It is therefore critical that your lawyer be capable of conducting a thorough and exhaustive cross-examination. Depending on a host of factors, this may call for light suggestive questioning or aggressive confrontational examination.”

According to Craig, even if lawyers have a duty to engage in aggressive cross-examination, “that shouldn’t translate into your marketing platform.”

“No one is constitutionally entitled to any defence possible,” she continues.

“Whatever we rely on as the legal profession to justify that kind of conduct, that doesn’t apply to marketing.”

Fascinating, professor.

Craig seems to doubt that aggressive confrontational cross-examination is justified. But even accepting for the sake of the argument that it is, she opines that advertising such advocacy in sex-assault cases is unjustified. So it’s not in all cases that lawyers are forbidden, in Craig World, from advertising their special skills, nor in all criminal cases, but only in sex-assault cases.

The rules are different for sex assault cases. Because political correctness.

I don’t know “law society rules on marketing”; they may indeed forbid “implying aggressive advocacy” in sex-assault cases. Canada’s a strange place, eh? Craig’s complaint, more specifically, is that such advertising may be inconsistent with:

…the rule requiring lawyers to encourage public respect for the administration of justice and to conduct oneself in a manner that reflects favourably on the legal profession and that inspires the confidence, respect and trust of the community, the duty to maintain client confidentiality and to uphold the reputation of the legal profession, the duty of competence, the obligation to communicate in a manner that is consistent with the proper tone of a professional communication from a lawyer, and the requirement that public statements by a lawyer concerning a client’s affairs are in the best interests of the client and not for the purpose of publicity or self-promotion…

So advertising that doesn’t encourage public respect for the administration of justice is improper. But whether advertising encourages public respect for the administration of justice is mostly subjective. Professor Craig may have one view of what the public should look for in a criminal-justice system (gentle treatment of complainants); I have a very different one (a fighting chance for the accused).

By acting as though sex-assault complainants aren’t given any more special treatment than the law requires, Adler Bytensky encourages public respect for the administration of justice, as the law society rules require. He’s telling the truth. It’s only those who think that sex-assault cases call for less due process who will see aggressive cross-examination of a sex-assault complainant as a bad thing for the system.

The criminal-justice system is imperfect, and it’s important that it get things as right as possible. Aggressive cross-examination, when it is appropriate, is an engine for getting to the truth. If the Crown can’t prove its case in the face of a zealous defense, then the system has worked.

Even if the defendant really did it.

“All parties were drinking at a New Years Eve Party. The Complainant became intoxicated and unconscious. The Complainant’s partner and L.H. placed the Complainant in L.H.’s bed due to her intoxicated state. The Complainant became ill, thus her partner and L.H. cleaned up both the Complainant and the area where she became ill. The next morning the Complainant alleges L.H. sexually assaulted her in her sleep. DNA analysis was completed on the Complainant’s underwear and tested positive for L.H.’s DNA. Results: Jury acquitted Mr. L.H. of all charges.”

Craig then noted some of her concerns: “Individuals cannot consent to sex while unconscious. By describing this sequence of events, and then noting that the accused’s DNA was found in the complainant’s underwear but not offering any other details of the case besides the acquittal, this advertisement may leave the reader with the impression that the client was factually guilty. No other information about the case is given.”

Any practicing lawyer recognizes that there are other explanations for these facts than factual guilt. Among them:

  • LH may have had consensual sex with Complainant before she was intoxicated;
  • LH may have had consensual sex with Complainant after she regained consciousness;
  • LH may have had sex with Complainant’s partner, who then touched LH’s underwear;
  • Someone may have planted LH’s DNA or Complainant’s underwear;
  • Complainant may have sat on something containing LH’s DNA; and
  • Complainant may have sexually assaulted LH after she regained consciousness.

That strikes me as the point of the lawyer’s (Sean Robichaud of Ontario) advertising: a story that appears to people like Craig like a foregone conclusion of guilt may, in the hands of the right lawyer, turn into an acquittal.

And sure there’s much more to Robichaud’s story than he’s telling in his ad. That’s just a teaser. Robichaud gives us only the facts that the client, the Crown, and Robichaud might have started with when the client was charged, and tells us what the ultimate result was. What happened in between is the work that Robichaud got paid to do. It’s a before-and-after shot. While Robichaud may advertise how he worked his magic, he has no obligation to.

Sure, this might leave the reader with the impression that LH was factually guilty (and I would take issue with it if the reader could determine LH’s identity from the information Robichaud gives). But “factually guilty people are sometimes acquitted” isn’t the indictment of the system that “factually innocent people are sometimes convicted” is. The easier we make it to convict the factually guilty, the easier it becomes to convict the factually innocent. Yes, factually guilty people are sometimes acquitted. That’s the truth.

Craig doesn’t take issue with the advertising as deceptive. She can’t: although told with a purpose, it’s truthful. Deception would lie in suppressing the truth.


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